Stem cells shown to restore non-functioning ovaries

Stem cells shown to restore non-functioning ovaries

Around 1% of women under the age of 40 suffer Premature Ovarian Failure (POF). Which is a stopping of normal functioning of the ovaries in a woman younger than age 40. Women largely stop producing eggs and ovarian hormones. It used to be called premature menopause. Infertility is a major problem that affects these women and currently no treatment is available that increases fertility.

Now for the first time, a group of researchers have been able to restore ovarian function to rats suffering from POF. This is an important development which opens the prospect of treating women with POF in the future. This work is presented at the World Congress of Fertility and Sterility, in Munich.

The researchers, led by Professor Osama Azmy (National Research Center, Cairo, Egypt) used embryonic rat stem cells (MSCs, see below for definition) to restore ovary function in the experimental rats.

They studied 60 mature female rats. The rats were divided into 4 groups.

-- The first group (group 1) was the control group, which was given no treatment.

The rest of the rats, groups 2-4, were given a chemical to induce ovarian failure with 15 rats in each group.

-- Group 2 had ovarian failure, but then was treated with MSC injections. Male Stem cells were used, so that the exact location of the stem cells could subsequently be detected by looking for the presence of a Y chromosome.

-- Group 3 had ovarian failure, and was injected with a saline solution

-- Group 4 had ovarian failure and was not treated

The researchers also monitored the levels of FSH (follicle-Stimulating Hormone) and 17β estradiol, to see if hormone levels of the treated rats returned to normal.

Within 2 weeks, the rats in the experimental group had regained fully-functioning ovaries. After 8 weeks, the hormone levels of the rats in the treated group (group 2) were the same as those rats which did not have ovarian failure (group 1). The researchers were able to detect the presence of the MSCs in the ovaries of the rats by confirming the local presence of a Y chromosome.

Professor Azmy comments

"This work shows that Mesenchymal Stem Cells can restore ovarian function. The treated ovaries returned to producing eggs and hormones, and we could detect the presence of the stem cells within the newly functioning ovaries.

"What we have done is proven that we can restore apparently fully- functioning ovaries in rats. The next step is to look how these rats might reproduce, and to characterise the chromosomes of offspring following treatment. We have not yet reached the stage of producing offspring, and so we will need to understand if the baby rats will be genetically related to the mother, or to the donor of the stem cells.

"This is proof of concept, and there is still a long way to go before we can apply this to women. Nevertheless, this work holds out the possibility that women with premature ovarian failure might be able to bear a baby of their own".

Source: International Federation of Fertility Societies

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Section Issues On Medicine: Disease